The Marie Short House - Glenn Murcutt's Grand Example

The Marie Short House by Glenn Murcutt
The Marie Short House by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at www.ozetecture.org/2012/marie-short-glenn-murcutt-house/ (adapted)

Many of the most famous architects in the world begin their careers experimenting with the design of single-family homes. British-born Australian architect Glenn Murcutt is no exception. Murcutt designed the Marie Short House, also known as the Kempsey Farm, for one of his first clients in the early 1970s. Marie Short's farmhouse in New South Wales, Australia has become a textbook of Murcutt's design practices.

Architect Glenn Murcutt Builds With Local Timber

Inside the Marie Short House by Glenn Murcutt
Inside the Marie Short House by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at www.ozetecture.org/2012/marie-short-glenn-murcutt-house/ (adapted)

As in all Glenn Murcutt designs, the Marie Short House is constructed of simple, readily available local materials. Timber from a nearby sawmill form the framing and the walls. Adjustable steel louvers control the flow of air through the living space. The design incorporates a blurring of the indoor and outdoor living spaces—a practice that has defined a modernist's approach from Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style homes to Mies van der Roh's 1950 glass Farnsworth House. The long, low shape becomes part of the natural environment.

"By mixing together Australia’s vernacular style with the clean lines of classic Modernism, writes Jim Lewis in The New York Times, "he has created an architecture that’s both true to the place and unexpectedly rigorous, like a bow and arrow made out of titanium."

Sketching the Marie Short House

Overhead sketch of the Marie Short by Glenn Murcutt
Overhead sketch of the Marie Short by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at www.ozetecture.org/2012/marie-short-glenn-murcutt-house/ (adapted)

An initial sketch visually shows the floor plan design of architect Glenn Murcutt—create two "pavilions," a public and private space, "one for sleeping, the other for living."  This approach to design is nothing new—the great castles and palaces of Europe have compartmentalized living areas. It's also an approach found in today's modern designs, for example the Maple Floor Plan from one of the Perfect Little Houses by Brachvogel and Carosso.

The original 1975 floor plan is as simple as this sketch implies.

A Simple Floor Plan, 1975

Floor plan of original 1975 Marie Short house designed by Glenn Murcutt
Floor plan of original 1975 Marie Short house designed by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at www.ozetecture.org/2012/marie-short-glenn-murcutt-house/ (adapted)

The client, Marie Short, wanted a home that could be easily disassembled and reassembled elsewhere. Australian architect Glenn Murcutt took a cue from the Japanese Metabolists and designed six cubicles, including an open bay for each of the two pavilions. The joining corridor, here with a series of doorways and barriers, is a design approach that appears in later Murcutt house designs.

Murcutt was obviously not done with this design. He later bought the Marie Short House for himself and expanded on the original 1975 plan in 1980, changing the six bay scheme to nine.

Galvanized Steel Roof

Detailing of the corrugated roof and side wall louvers of the Marie Short House designed by Glenn Murcutt
Detailing of the corrugated roof and side wall louvers of the Marie Short House designed by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at www.ozetecture.org/2012/marie-short-glenn-murcutt-house/ (adapted)

Murcutt's execution of this design model has made the Marie Short House a structure to be studied by architects and architectural students around the world.

It may also be a house that has been imitated. Frank Gehry used galvanized corrugated steel when he remodeled his California bungalow in 1978. In Gehry style, however, the industrial material was not used on the roof of his Santa Monica, California home. This inventiveness (in part) won Gehry a Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989—thirteen years before Murcutt became a Pritzker Laureate.

Architecture is an iterative process of experimentation with ideas. The best designs and methods are passed on, copied, and tweaking to form something new. This is the art of design in architecture.

Designed for the Australian Landscape

The Marie Short House by Glenn Murcutt
The Marie Short House by Glenn Murcutt. Photo by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at www.ozetecture.org/2012/marie-short-glenn-murcutt-house/ (adapted)

The Marie Short House sets on stilts, nearly 3 feet off the ground, on a rural stretch of land along the Maria River in Kempsey, north of Sydney, Australia. It is made of local timber, post-and-beam constructed as any Australian woolshed might be. It does look like a typical Australian farm building and for this the Marie Short House has been called Vernacular architecture.

The roof is ordinary corrugated metal. Wide eaves provide cooling shelter from the sun. 

Looking from the Inside to the Outside

Pritzker Prize-winning architect Glenn Murcutt used local timber for the Marie Short House
Pritzker Prize-winning architect Glenn Murcutt used local timber for the Marie Short House. Photo by Anthony Browell cropped from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008

Each of Glenn Murcutt's houses is designed for its specific location. This does not mean that architectural elements are different for each house design. The elements in the Marie Short House are certainly found in other homes designed by Murcutt, but the skylights will always "follow the sun."

Murcutt's trademarked louvered walls are artifacts of Australian design that have been imitated in urban skyscrapers around the world, including The New York Times building in New York City and Agbar Tower in Barcelona, Spain.

"When the wind is blowing in the summer, it has a wonderful cooling effect," Murcutt says of his home. "In the winter, the louvers have a tendency to heat up, and you can warm your back against them in the mornings."

 The Marie Short House is Glenn Murcutt's prototype that has informed his work over a lifetime. As The New York Times noted, the woolshed is "a template for sensible design," and, transformed by Glenn Murcutt, this sensibility becomes an architecture discovered.

Sources

  • The Native Builder by Jim Lewis, The New York Times, May 20, 2007 [accessed August 21, 2016]
  • Text and images from 02 of 6 taken from "The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt" and "Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing" published by TOTO, Japan, 2008. Photos: Anthony Browell. Text: Heneghan, Gusheh, Lassen, Seyama, from the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at http://www.ozetecture.org/2012/marie-short-glenn-murcutt-house/ [accessed August 21, 2016]
  • Photos in 03 of 6 by Anthony Browell taken from The Architecture of Glenn Murcutt and Thinking Drawing / Working Drawing published by TOTO, Japan, 2008, courtesy Oz.e.tecture, the Offical Website of Architecture Foundation Australia and the Glenn Murcutt Master Class at www.ozetecture.org/2012/marie-short-glenn-murcutt-house/ (adapted);
  • The Native Builder by Jim Lewis, The New York Times, May 20, 2007 [accessed August 21, 2016]
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Craven, Jackie. "The Marie Short House - Glenn Murcutt's Grand Example." ThoughtCo, Nov. 3, 2017, thoughtco.com/marie-short-house-178003. Craven, Jackie. (2017, November 3). The Marie Short House - Glenn Murcutt's Grand Example. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/marie-short-house-178003 Craven, Jackie. "The Marie Short House - Glenn Murcutt's Grand Example." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/marie-short-house-178003 (accessed November 22, 2017).